Research has long linked cyber bullying and problems like anxiety, depression and self-harm as well as alcohol and prescription drug abuse. In new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers who surveyed nearly 19,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18 from schools in the Midwest also found teens eating dinner with their families reduced the effects of cyber bullying. Their data indicates that when there are no family dinners, there’s an increase in the rates of problems with cyber bullying. Four or more family dinners a week, however, resulted in fewer problems.
While the findings do not conclude that bullying on its own is enough to increase the risk for mental health and behavioral problems, nor are family dinners necessarily enough to protect against them the new research offers hope for parents that simply their involvement in their child’s life can offer a shield from psychologically damaging adolescent turmoil.
Family dinners may defend against anxiety and depression and other mental health issues by offering more family contact. In this time spent together parents are able to practice 5 core parenting skills. Research from the Oregon Social Learning Center supports that parents who excel in these 5 parenting areas have children with fewer missed school days, less involvement with the legal system, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, less likely to be rejected by teachers and healthy peers, and less likely to have oppositional behaviors or conduct problems.
- Encouragement – Encouragement is the opportunity to reinforce adaptive or prosocial behaviors. Teens often seek approval from their peers and are thus so devastated when they are bullied and rejected by other kids their age. Parents can use frequent dinners to support and reinforce things their child is doing well. This can be through verbal praise or physical gestures like high fives, thumbs up, and smiles.
- Limit setting – Setting limits helps to teach kids boundaries and to emotionally regulate. If your child is too consumed by tech gadgets, and often they will be even in the face of being bullied on them, you can model setting boundaries by requiring dinners to be unplugged and having consequences when the household rules are not observed. As mentioned above teens seek approval from peers and when bullied will seek relief from social media in order to feel better often to be bullied and put down again and so the cycle repeats. Teens must learn how to soothe in healthier ways.
- Monitoring and Supervision – This refers to being aware of the who, what, where, when of your child’s life. Open communication of family dinners offer parents the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of their child’s day, who are the key players in their social world, and what are the common concerns. Parents who can listen without judgment can glean more information from their children and then consult as parents how to intervene.
- Problem Solving – At family dinners parents can model problem-solving techniques such as setting goals, brainstorming, and compromising to find solutions. Parents may even use a family dinner to help a child find a solution to a bullying problem.
- Positive Involvement – One of the core parenting techniques is simply spending quality time together. Family dinners help to build memories, create rituals and traditions, and share love and laughter.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. Family Dinners Protect Against the Effects of Cyberbullying. Time Magazine. http://time.com/3223017/dinners-fight-bullying/. September 1, 2014.
Oregon Social Learning Center. www.oslc.org